Why Are Millions of People Watching These Disgusting Youtube Prank Videos?

I enjoy most YouTube prank videos. I love a clever, creative joke that involves some harmless fun at the expense of the victim, such as watching a guy wriggle and squirm in confused discomfort after his girlfriend secretly rubs Icy Hot gel on his underwear.

However, my appetite for these shenanigans has introduced me to a disturbingly racist category of prank videos. These videos, containing some version of the title “Pranks Gone Wrong,” often feature young white males going into black or Latino communities—which the pranksters usually call the "hood"—and antagonizing the residents in order to provoke a violent response.

Unlike the pranks I enjoy, “Pranks Gone Wrong” videos are not clever or creative. In one, a prankster hiding a plastic squirt gun in his back pocket approaches a person of color and says: “Yo homie, you want to buy a gun?” In another video, a young man walks up to his target, who is black, and says: “Hey man, want to hear a joke? What’s a black man do after sex? Fifteen to life.” (Which isn’t a prank at all.)

Unsurprisingly, the interactions, at least most of the ones in the videos, end with the prankster getting physically assaulted while yelling: “Hey, it’s just a prank! It’s just a prank!”

As if that makes their behavior okay.

Many of these videos have received tens of millions of views. But part of their popularity has nothing to do with the actual pranks. As one YouTube user writes in the comment section of a video: “I don't watch these pranks because they are funny (they're not), I watch them because I'm waiting for a guy to beat the shit out of him.”

I agree with that statement. But after a few minutes, I became so disgusted I had to stop watching. For those who think we are living in a “post-racial America,” these videos reveal the destructiveness of the veiled bigotry that exists in our culture. While modern racism might not be as visible as the “whites only” signs so ubiquitous during Jim Crow, or as blatant as when Governor George Wallace protested the desegregation of the University of Alabama, these videos bring to light the revolting racism that often lurks in the dark corners of society and can be just as damaging.

Some of the YouTube comments acknowledge that almost anyone would probably punch these guys in the face. Many of the comments ask questions like “Why are black people so aggressive? Can’t they take a joke?” which shows how these videos support racist stereotypes that black men are violent and dangerous.

These stereotypes are just as destructive today as they were under Jim Crow or slavery. This is why the student government at the University of Alabama voted this year to block a resolution that would have forbidden racial segregation in the campus’ fraternities and sororities. The resolution was introduced in response to revelations that all-white sororities on campus denied membership to black women on the basis of race. This is more than 50 years after the army was called into the University of Alabama to desegregate the school.

Stereotypes explain why baseball fans in St. Louis hurled racial slurs at a group of protestors calling for justice after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. One Cardinals fan said, “If they'd be working, we wouldn't have this problem!"

This is why I’m writing this article. I’m not including links to the videos. I urge you not to watch them because more views on YouTube will only encourage proliferation of these videos. But they need to be discussed in order to add to the conversation about how little progress we’ve made since the Civil Rights era. 

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